Pietersen’s fractious journey

2012-08-18 00:00

JUST how much is a tattoo of the three lions that symbolise the England cricket team worth when it looks like you won’t be playing for them again? Or does Kev expect his hordes of fans to storm Lord’s and demand his restoration to the throne of English cricket where he can once again display the body markings that proclaim his love for an adopted country? Or has that love given way to a greater love of money so that he is prepared to become a hired gun who is willing to parade his skills for whoever will pay him his thirty pieces of silver or whatever the going rate for mercenaries is among the circuses of T20 cricket?

Only Kev knows the answers, but once again, in his own mind, he has become a victim of those who fail to grasp that the temperament of his genius requires a special degree of understanding.

That he has been unable to find such empathy within the confines of an England cricket team managed by the stern and no-nonsense Andy Flower, is no surprise to those who have followed Kev through his fractious journey in and out of the dressing rooms of Natal, Nottinghamshire, Hampshire, Surrey and a trio of T20 outfits in India.

Kev does not do loyalty. His mantra “All I want to do is to play cricket for my country” has been replaced with “I need to be treated and paid like the batsman who is worshipped wherever he plays”. The victim has become god with the desire to receive the genuflections of faithful fans and team-mates alike.

In the peculiar world of T20 cricket, Pietersen may find the riches and adulation he craves, but his world will be a poorer place if the stage door to Test cricket, with all its theatrical drama, has been closed never to be reopened.

Early indications are that Pietersen has begun to panic at the prospect of being a permanent outcast from the England team. All sorts of about-faces and apologies have taken place, but the real issue is whether trust can be re-established between Pietersen and Strauss, who must be feeling badly let down. It is revealing that not one of Kev’s erstwhile team-mates came to his defence during the unwinding of the whole sorry saga.

Cricket dressing rooms are strange places. All sorts of characters have found happiness and fulfillment within their confines. Eccentrics are often loved, selfishness is understood and generally accepted, extroverts and introverts learn to live beside each other. Established hierarchies exist alongside upstarts.

What is seldom tolerated is arrogance, and when it is coupled with egocentric stupidity, the mix is often so lethal that excision is usually the only solution — which is the point at which the England captain and coach have arrived in respect of their wayward wunderkind.

So England arrived at Lord’s without the one batsman who can take the game away from the opposition in a single session. Their team will be weaker for Kev’s absence, but not poorer, and that is a distinction that the Proteas should be aware of if they want to win this series and all that goes with such a victory.

Happy teams often play better than those that are more talented but divided. Unity breeds self-control and determination. England will miss Pietersen’s batting, but South Africa must not be complacent about the outcome of this final Test match. England’s bowling attack has not had a good series thus far, but given the right conditions, a bit of luck and good catching, it remains capable of taking 20 South African wickets.

Will the afterglow of the Olympics have any effect on the performance of England? London will still be basking in the satisfaction of producing a Games that not only exceeded expectations, but one which may well have been the best of all time.

From beginning to end, the Games were superbly organised, with scarcely a hitch to be seen. The opening and closing ceremonies were breathtaking examples of the creative energy that one often forgets is such a powerful force in the United Kingdom. The British athletes had a marvellous Olympics with successes in differing and wide ranging events.

South Africans seem content with a tally of six medals, but compared with Team GB’s haul, it was no more than mediocre. The reality of South Africa is that it is not by any measure a small country and that a few sports aside, we are a long way behind the UK in the organisation and funding of sport, as well as the identification of future sports stars.

England’s cricket team will not want to let the side down after their golden fortnight. Now that the most troublesome of their japies has been dealt with, we can expect a stern battle from Strauss and his men for cricket’s version of a gold medal.

Gary Kirsten, I am sure, will not have prepared his men for anything else. The Proteas have had a few injury worries, not least of which is that of our own Petersen, who hopefully has overcome the hamstring injury acquired during his very important innings at Headingley. Thankfully, he has recovered in time to look forward to a spell in the team without feeling unsure of his place, although one is tempted to note that most of his best innings have been played under the threat of being dropped.

So with Graeme Smith choosing to bat upon winning the toss and all the pre-match ballyhoo operating in South Africa’s favour, what happens on the first morning of the match?

Almost everything goes right for the home team. Conditions for bowling improve before play starts. The ball swings all over the place. England make the most of the conditions and in the midst of it all, a truly shocking decision from the third umpire sends Kallis back to the pavilion.

The result after just two hours play was that England, minus Kev, are favorites to win the match!

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